The ignorance pervading the Church today is quite disconcerting in many areas. I'd have to say that the most crucial area would be in that of the doctrine of justification. Martin Luther said the teaching of Justification was the article by which the Church would stand or fall. Similar to the time of Martin Luther, multitudes are in the dark concerning the true nature and application of justification. Not only are there those who teach justification can somehow be earned by one's own merit and ability, but many also teach one must keep themselves justified by their own merit and ability. Such a notion is far from biblical, and is no doubt due to both ignorance and, more pertinently, passivity by Christ's church in letting such be taught without fear of reprisal.
My intention is not to overwhelm you with theological jargon that might possibly muddy the clarity of the biblical doctrine of justification, but to share with you the simplicity of the doctrine in a nutshell.
First, a definition from Easton's Bible Dictionary (emphasis mine):
justification a forensic term, opposed to condemnation. As regards its nature, it is the judicial act of God, by which he pardons all the sins of those who believe in Christ, and accounts, accepts, and treats them as righteous in the eye of the law, i.e., as conformed to all its demands. In addition to the pardon (q.v.) of sin, justification declares that all the claims of the law are satisfied in respect of the justified. It is the act of a judge and not of a sovereign. The law is not relaxed or set aside, but is declared to be fulfilled in the strictest sense; and so the person justified is declared to be entitled to all the advantages and rewards arising from perfect obedience to the law (Rom. 5:1-10). It proceeds on the imputing or crediting to the believer by God himself of the perfect righteousness, active and passive, of his Representative and Surety, Jesus Christ (Rom. 10:3-9). Justification is not the forgiveness of a man without righteousness, but a declaration that he possesses a righteousness which perfectly and for ever satisfies the law, namely, Christ's righteousness (2 Cor. 5:21; Rom. 4:6-8). The sole condition on which this righteousness is imputed or credited to the believer is faith in or on the Lord Jesus Christ.
In another article I wrote:
Man…was created perfect. Man was given a "test", if you will, to either pass or fail. Man failed by disobeying God's clear command, and Adam, being the representative for all mankind, plunged all mankind into sin. In doing so, all persons born of man are born dead in their sins, unable to please God and unwilling to do so as well. Therefore, all men (and women and children, etc.) are born naturally and radically separated from God, in darkness.
That is to say, that when Adam fell, his sinfulness was imputed to us all who are born of woman (which would be, you guessed it, everybody). To have something imputed to you is equal to having whatever it may be attributed to you. So, when Adam sinned, since he represented all mankind, all mankind has Adam's sinfulness reckoned to them. In Adam, we all are guilty of Adam's sin. This is by imputation. Justification is the opposite of the imputation of Adam's unrighteousness. It is the imputation of Christ's righteousness into those who have by faith believed on the Lord Jesus Christ. So, briefly and succinctly, let me summarize justification.
Man can only be right with God by fulfilling/obeying every aspect of God's holy law. God will accept only perfection. Thus, we have the problem. Since man is born dead in his sin, only gratifying the desires of flesh, and under its dominion, he can never do that which is pleasing to God (i.e. obey all of God's law and never disobey it). All of this is very bad news…
Christ's purpose for coming to earth was the secure the justification of all those who had believe and would believe. Man could not do it. This why when someone believes or teaches justification as being accomplished by anything in addition to faith, they err greatly. The details of man's inability will be discussed more elaborately when we have some articles discussing what are known as "The Doctrines of Grace." Since man, by nature, could never attain perfection, thus fully satisfying God's standard, he would need a substitute. This is exactly what Jesus did to "justify the ungodly."Again, my intention is not to impart expertise or detail on this doctrine, but to clarify its essence. There is much more to justification in its details, but not necessary by way of introduction to the doctrine itself. As time goes by, I hope to be linking to articles that articulate the deeper aspects of the doctrines I introduce much better than I'd ever be able to communicate.
For now, just remember that being "right" with God cannot be earned. Rather, being "right" with God is a gift from God, and secured by way of justification. This justification was not something that could be cultivated by the inherent ability of man, rather it was something that had to be purchased by the God Man, Jesus Christ, Who lived and obeyed the Law of God perfectly, then died on behalf of those who believe. In His death as the Ultimate, Perfect Sacrifice, He purchased the justification of His people, ensuring their redemption. In other words, man is not/ cannot be saved by anything he has or does, but only by faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. Furthermore, man cannot keep his salvation by meritorious works or deeds, nor by earning God's favor. It is all of grace that only God would receive credit for such a miraculous truth. I would just like to leave you with a few pertinent passages that deal with justification by faith:
For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law.-Romans 3:28
In the preceding passage, Paul has just alluded to the fact that all men have sinned and fallen short of God's strandard. He then introduces this verse by declaring, "Then what becomes of our boasting? It is excluded." Thus, noting that no one can boast of themselves concerning their salvation.
We ourselves are Jews by birth and not Gentile sinners; yet we know that a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ,so we also have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ and not by works of the law, because by works of the law no one will be justified.-Galatians 2:15-16
Here Paul is sure to make it known that any who would boast of their ancestory or ethnicity would do so quite vainly. He makes it clear that all are on equal footing and that salvation, if obtained, is only done so by the faith which is a gift of God.
For what does the Scripture say? "Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness." Now to the one who works, his wages are not counted as a gift but as his due. And to the one who does not work but trusts him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness-Romans 4:3-5
A beautiful illustration of Sola Fide. Notice the terminology "counted" or credited. He's clear to point out that a worker is worthy of his wages, but that one who receives money, yet didn't work…that's a gift!
That God would graciously give us His only Son, to secure us to the glory of His Name! What a precious inconceivable act of mercy! Soli Deo Gloria! To the Glory of God Alone!